Iron Hill Is King of the Hill

by Jack Curtin
Atlantic Ale Trail
Dec 2005/Jan 2006

The naming of the Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant regional chain (five pubs in Delaware and Pennsylvania, with a sixth scheduled to open in 2006) as Large Brewpub of the Year at the 2005 Great American Beer Festival in Denver was the highlight of a solid performance by East Coast breweries. Twenty-six of them garnered a total of 44 medals, 19 Gold.

Iron Hill won two Golds and Bronze to earn Large Brewpub honors. West Chester brewer Chris LaPierre took Gold for his Belgian Strong and Bronze for his Ironbound Ale. Perennial medal winner Bob Barrar of the Media pub won Gold for Kriek de Hill.

After adjusting the official GABF listings to move the three medals garnered by Iron Hill to Pennsylvania--they were submitted out of the Wilmington, Delaware pub but were actually brewed in West Chester and Media-New York and Pennsylvania brewers accounted for just shy of half the total medals won, ten each. Virginia was close behind with seven.

Two breweries won four medals, Triumph Brewing Company, with pubs in Pennsylvania (3) and New Jersey, and Boston Beer Company of Massachusetts. Other Pennsylvania winners were Nodding Head (2), Church Brew Works and John Harvard's Devon (erroneously credited to Harvard's Springfield in the official list). New York winners were High Falls (3), Southampton Publick House (2), Brooklyn, Blue Point, Chelsea, Gilded Otter and Wagner Valley. Virginia's seven medals were won by Starr Hill (3), Capitol City (2), Great American Restaurants and Old Dominion.

Rocky River and Thirsty Dog each won two medals in Ohio and Long Valley added two to New Jersey's total of three. Allagash brought home two medals for Maine, while Vermont (Otter Creek/Wolaver), New Hampshire (Smuttynose), Connecticut (Cambridge House) and Delaware (Dogfish Head) each had one medal-winning brewery.

Tales of GABF 2005: Triumph-ant groom gets a call, George takes the blame and there's a new kid on the block.
Last column, I mentioned that Triumph Brewing Company executive brewer Jay Misson would be at his wedding on the first Saturday in October rather than in the Colorado Convention Center Festival Hall and that he told his brewing team, "you can call me if we win a medal; otherwise, never mind." Brewer Patrick Jones, of Triumph's New Hope, PA pub, who hit for the cycle in Denver (Gold for Triumph Honey Wheat, Silver for Triumph Dunkel, Bronze for Triumph German Pilsener), says they did just that. "At least we waited until all the medals were awarded," he laughed, "so we only had to call him once."

Jones says Misson was understandably elated. Here's the proof, a toast Misson made to guests at his reception (provided by an inebriated guest, so we can't vouch for complete accuracy): "Today I married my best girl, we won four medals at the Great American Beer Festival and the Yankees beat the Red Sox for the American League East pennant. Today wasn't a bad day at all."

Medal Saturday wasn't a bad day for Gordon Grubb and George Hummel either. Grubb won his first medals as head brewer at Philadelphia's Nodding Head Brewery & Restaurant, Gold for George's Fault and Silver for Ich Bin Ein Berliner Weisse. George's Fault was based on a prototype developed by Hummel, co-owner of the city's leading homebrew store, Home Sweet Homebrew, and given to departed head brewer Brandon Greenwood. He crunched the numbers and worked the recipe up to scale and Grubb did the brew. "The recipe originally came from Charlie Papazian," says Hummel. "It appeared in his column in Zymurgy and was later added to an updated edition of Complete Joy of Homebrewing. As I tweaked it over the years, it morphed into my own creation. It's won several best of show ribbons, and always at least places if entered in a homebrew competition." The resulting beer is a dangerously drinkable10.5% abv killer and I'm told this is the story behind its name:

"Hey," the guy complains, "why is my date so drunk?" (Do guys really complain about this?) "Well," says the bartender, "it's George's fault."
Do guys actually complain about that?

John Harvard's John Rehm was the new guy in town, the brewer whose name was unfamiliar to most of us, but now that he has GABF Gold in hand for his Devon Altbier, brewed at Harvard's Main Line pub, that'll change. He learned his trade as a volunteer at New England Brewing Company in Woodbridge, working with owners and former John Harvard's brewers Rob Leonard and Pete Seaman. "They were the nicest guys I've ever met," he remembers, "and when I decided this was the career I wanted, they put me in touch with Tim Morse, John Harvard's brewmaster." Rehm returned to the Philadelphia area, where he'd gone to college, as an assistant to Brian McConnell, then handling the virtually impossible task of brewing for all three local Harvard's pubs (Devon, Springfield and Wilmington, Del.). He soon found himself spending more and more time tending the tanks in Devon and was named head brewer there last March. His award-winning Alt was his first ever GABF entry and his trip to Denver last week was his first Festival visit. "It's been a really fast ride and I'm enjoying every minute of it," he laughs.

A Dogfish Tale of Bocce & Catapults.
Outsiders often refer to it as "Slower Delaware," the southern end of the state where Dogfish Head brews both big beers and bigger beers and locals have a strange penchant for firing large objects into the skies via cannon or catapult. That sobriquet seems a tad cruel. Besides, the region is home to the World Punkin' Chunkin' Championships, so folks come by their fetish naturally. Like they say, we all are influenced by environment.

No surprise then, that Sam ("I don't know a thing about marketing") Calagione figured that holding the first annual Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Intergalactic Invitational Bocce Tournament at DFH's Milton brewery on a mid-September weekend just wasn't enough fun all by itself. Saturday also featured periodic launchings of 30-packs of "cheap domestic larger" toward a giant six-foot wide toilet bowl over 100 yards away, a using a giant catapult (one of his smaller ones, apparently) manned by reigning Punkin' Chunkin' Champion Frank Payton. Wide right…wide left… and then the third shot hit dead center, sending Calagione into spasms of near ecstasy. Meanwhile, next to Payton's towering machine was a smaller version from which six-year old Julia Reid fired off single cans of beer. In these parts, giving your child early catapulting skills is considered damned good parenting.

Meanwhile, on Dogfish's two outdoor bocce courts (they'll be put under cover in 2006), Motley Brew, trash-talking confidently all the way, swept to an undefeated 6-0 record to best 15 competitors and win the title, eliminating runner-up BALCO Bowlers with the last toss of the championship game. The winners were awarded two weekend stays at the Dogfish Head Brewmaster's Suite at the Inn @ Canal Square in nearby Lewes, including a $50.00 gift certificate to Dogfish's Rehoboth Beach brewpub. Second prize was two-year-old cases of World Wide Stout, 120 Minute IPA, Olde School Barleywine and Immort Ale. Perhaps not surprisingly, since all of the four-person teams except two Dogfish Head entries (one consisting of Head Guy Sam Calagione and three beer scribes; the other of DFH employees led by head brewer Bryan Selders) were drawn from online geeks frequenting, there was much discussion whether those awards should have been reversed.

About that beer writer team… Far be it from me to complain, or boast, but at one point Dogfish special events coordinator Matt Webster, who did yeoman work throughout while maintaining the courts and serving as judge and jury for all disputes while somehow also managing to keep Calagione at least semi-focused for reasonable periods of time, did stare at one of our matches for a few rounds and then publicly announced that "it's Curtin against the world on court one." Nonetheless, we reached the semi-finals before being routed by Motley Brew.

Buy this book or we'll shoot a beer writer.
I would be remiss, not to mention derelict, if I didn't mention that the third edition of Pennsylvania Breweries, by fellow beer writer and pal Lew Bryson came off the presses in late September. An eminently readable, incredibly informed look at the state's 53 breweries and brewpubs, this 270-page trade paperback volume is about as good as a dedicated travel guide gets, adding comprehensive lists of other attractions, side trips, lodgings, pubs, restaurants et al to Bryson's first-hand accounts of Pennsylvania beers and the people who make them.

Folks, you don't get to do multiple editions in this game unless you're top-notch and providing useful information, but this book is more than just an invaluable guide when you're on the road. Because Bryson is a great storyteller who seamlessly weaves myriad personal experiences and anecdotes throughout his evaluations, Pennsylvania Breweries is a pleasure to read even if you never intend to set foot in the state. But if you do, and if you visit any of the fine establishments limned in these pages and happen to hear a booming guffaw from down the bar, emitted by a very large man, go introduce yourself. That's Lew. Tell him I sent you and he'll spring for a pint. Or maybe not.

Copyright (c) 2005 Jack Curtin

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